University of Oxford

File(s) not publicly available

E06597: Adomnán, in his Life of *Columba (abbot of Iona, ob. 597, S02167), recounts how 'about seventeen years ago' the monks of Iona were saved from drought when they went out to the fields with Columba's tunic and books. Written in Latin at Iona, 696/704.

online resource
posted on 2018-09-25, 00:00 authored by bsavill
Adomnán, Life of Columba 2.44

For an overview of this work, see E06056.

De pluia post aliquot siccitatis menses beati ob honorem uiri super sitientem domino donante terram effussa

[In the 'B' text the title is followed by: Miraculum quod nunc deo propitio describere incipimus, nostris temporibus factum propriis inspeximus oculis.] Ante annos namque ferme xuii. in his toprentibus terris ualde grandis uerno tempore facta est siccitas iugis et dura, in tantum ut illa domini in leuitico libro transgresoribus coaptata populis comminatio uideretur inminere, qua dicit: 'Dabo caelum uobis desuper sicut ferrum, et terram eneam. Consummetur incassum labor uester, nec proferet terra germen nec arbores poma praebebunt,' et cetera.

Nos itaque haec legentes, et inminentem plagam pertimescentes, hoc inito consilio fieri consiliati sumus, ut aliqui ex nostris senioribus nuper aratum et seminatum campum cum sancti Columbae candida circumirent tunica, et libris stilo ipsius discriptis, leuarentque in aere et excuterent eandem per ter tunicam qua etiam hora exitus eius de carne indutus erat, et eius aperirent libros et legerent in colliculo angelorum, ubi aliquando caelestis patriae ciues ad beati uiri condictum uisi sunt discendere.

Quae postquam omnia iusta initum sunt peracta consilium, mirum dictu, eadem die caelum in praeteritis mensibus, martio uidelicet et apreli, nudatum nubibus mira sub celeritate ipsis de ponto ascendentibus ilico opertum est, et pluia facta est magna die noctuque discendes. Et sitiens prius terra satis satiata oportune germina produxit sua, et ualde laetas eodem anno segites. Vnius itaque beati commemmoratio nominis uiri, in tunica et libris commemorata, multis regionibus eadem uice et populis salubri subuenit oportunitate.

'How in honour of St Columba the Lord brought rain to ground parched by months of drought

[The miracle which by God's favour we are now about to recount took place in our own time and we witnessed it with our own eyes]. It happened about seventeen years ago. Right through the spring a severe drought lasted unrelieved so that our fields were baked dry. It was so bad that we thought our people were threatened by the curse which the Lord imposed on those who transgressed, where it says in Leviticus: "I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass. And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruit," and so forth. As we read this and thought with fear of the blow that threatened, we debated what should be done, and decided on this. Some of our elders should walk around the fields that had lately been ploughed and sown, carrying with them St Columba's white tunic and books which the saint had himself copied. They should hold aloft the tunic, which was the one he wore at the hour of his departure from the flesh, and shake it three times. They should open his books and read aloud from them at the Hill of Angels, where from time to time the citizens of heaven used to be seen coming down to converse with the saint.

When all these things had been done as we had decided, on the same day – wonderful to tell – the sky, which has been cloudless through the whole of March and April, was at once covered, extraordinarily quickly, with clouds rising from the sea, and heavy rain fell day and night. The thirsty ground was quenched in time, the seed germinated and in due course there was a particularly good harvest. In this way the commemoration of St Columba's name, using his tunic and his books, on that occasion, brought help to many district and peoples in time to save their crops.'

Text: Anderson and Anderson 1991, 172. Translation: Sharpe 1995, 199-200.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Columba, abbot of Iona, ob. 597 : S02167

Saint Name in Source


Type of Evidence

Literary - Hagiographical - Other saint-related texts Literary - Hagiographical - Collections of miracles


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Britain and Ireland

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Iona St Albans St Albans Verulamium

Major author/Major anonymous work


Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Composing and translating saint-related texts

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle after death Power over elements (fire, earthquakes, floods, weather)

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Contact relic - saint’s possession and clothes


The Life of Columba was composed by Adomnán (ob. 704), a distant kinsman of the saint and, from 679, his eighth successor as abbot of the island-monastery of Iona (modern-day western Scotland). Although the Life contains few concretely datable events, Adomnán’s implication that he had been abbot for at least seventeen years during his account of a certain miracle (2.44) provides a terminus post quem of 696 for his composition, while his remark that another took place when he had been on his way home from an Irish synod (2.45) probably refers to the meeting held at Birr in June 697. That year, or some point shortly after, seems particularly attractive for the dating of the composition, coinciding as it does with the centenary of Columba’s death. Remarkably, a manuscript of the Life in the hand of the Ionan priest Dorbbéne, datable to around 700, and thus probably produced within the author’s own lifetime, survives at Schaffhausen (Switzerland). Later manuscripts suggest two distinct traditions of the Life: Dorbbéne’s ‘A’ text circulated in abbreviated form in continental Europe, while a slightly revised ‘B’ text was copied in England and Scotland. The ‘B’ Life appears to be roughly contemporary with ‘A’, and is thought to reflect Adomnán’s own revisions. For an overview of Adomnán’s Life of Columba, see E06056.


This is a rare example of a posthumous miracle in early Irish hagiography, and Adomnán is clearly dependent on continental models: Brüning (1915-17, 251) observed that the text here closes resembles that of a similar story told in Gregory the Great's Dialogues, in which the tunic of Euthicius, a holy monk of the province of Nursia, was similarly carried around the fields to bring rain in a drought (Dialogues 3.15). This does not rule out, however, the possibility that Adomnán and his monks purposefully imitated the practices they found in Gregory's text (Sharpe 1995, 345); nor does the story about Euthicius involve carrying around, and reading from, books copied by the saint, nor the detail of shaking the cape (which, in the case of Euthicius is not described as that worn by the saint on his deathbed).


Edition: Anderson, A.O., and Anderson, M.O., Adomnán’s Life of Columba, revised edition (Oxford, 1991). Translation, introduction and commentary: Sharpe, R., Admonán of Iona, Life of Columba (London, 1995). Further reading: Brüning, G., "Adamnans Vita Columbae und ihre Abteilungen," Zeitschrift für celtische Philologie, 11 (1915-17), 213-304. Ní Dhonnchadha, Máirín, ‘Adomnán [St Adomnán], (627/8?-704),’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), Sharpe, R., Medieval Irish Saints’ Lives: An Introduction to the Vitae sanctorum Hiberniae (Oxford, 1991).

Usage metrics

    Evidence -  The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity



    Ref. manager